Dr. Adams, a Director of Student Affairs in State College, PA

Reading time: 5 minutes

Dr. Ashley Adams Your Corporate Black Girl
Be yourself! Don’t try to “blend in” with the work culture to make those around you happy. Stay true to yourself.
— Ms. Cyrenna Cooper

I am the oldest of 7 children and grew up in a fairly strict religious Church of God in Christ household in Southern Illinois, think the Black 7th Heaven. I love being a big sister as it plays into my primary strength, telling people what to do…LOL. Both my parents worked with children, my mother ran an in-home daycare and my father worked for the Department. of Children and Family Services so there were always “extra” kids around plus cousins and other family members. My childhood was filled with a lot of love. As a professional, my first job was at McDonalds and I maintain that it was one of my favs. I also worked in the non-profit and retail management sector, before finding my passion in higher education. I’ve now worked in higher education for nearly 8 years having done work in admissions, academic support services, advising and now student affairs.


How would you explain your job title to a child?

The simplest way to explain my work is to say I work at a university and I help college students be successful. My job as the Director of Student Affairs for a large research 1 institution in Pennsylvania. My primary responsibilities include providing co-curricular and student support services to the over 18,000 students studying online. I supervise a team of professionals who provide career counseling, student conduct and advocacy, mental health, student clubs and organizations, student leadership programming and support to our student population located all over the world.


Diversity is a concept that is open to interpretation. What does it mean to you? : 

Diversity isn’t a concept but more a manifestation of the representation that a group of people display when gathered together. There are many ways that this may be manifested including diversity across age, ability, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education etc. I value diversity in groups and enjoy working for a university that has values that match my own.


What were important steps you had to take in order to be at your current position?

While having a PhD. is not required for my position it is preferred and I knew that I wanted the potential to further advance my career, so it was an important step. I’ve also remained flexible throughout my career by not being location bound and being willing to move and travel as the work necessitated it. At times this has put a strain on my social life, but I’ve chosen to prioritize my career knowing that the rest will come. I encourage women to not be afraid to take on big projects, be available to relocate or take on a temporary assignment if one comes along, it might add value and depth to your experience.


What challenges have you experienced in the workplace? : 

I am a relatively young (and young presenting), black women in a fairly visible position at a large university. The challenges are numerous including being tokenized, being overlooked, being labeled as angry when advocating for an issue, being questioned or seconded guested despite evidence of stated issue. I attempt to navigate these issues with the grace of Beyonce, tactfully, deliberately and always with my end goal in mind.


What are some things that you love about your job/career? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? : 

I love advocating for students. Whether it is directly through services or through policy recommendations to the larger university, helping students complete their degree brings me great joy. I believe in the power of education to change the lives of people and their communities and I feel that I am able to do that through my work.

I’ll be teaching graduate level courses in the coming year, which will give me the opportunity to impart some of what I’ve learned to those just entering the field. I also look forward to making other advancements, including taking on greater responsibility in policy development and implementation that improve the lives of students.

What advice would you give someone trying to pursue your career or any related career?

Consider the type of institution you want to work at before becoming a university administrator, public/private, Historically Black College and Universities or Predominately White Institutions (HBCU/PWI), community college/religious school etc. They will all have different ways of governing, approaching supporting students and engaging employees. Do your research and ensure their mission, vision and values are align with your own. Also, being a senior level administrator is empowering and provides influence for significant impact on the lives of students, but it doesn’t allow for much direct student engagement in the day to day work. Consider that, if engaging with students directly is important to you.


What advice do you have for someone first coming into a professional space? It can be more than one.

Find allies and accomplices inside and outside of your department. An ally will mostly engage in activism by standing with an individual or group in a marginalized community. An accomplice will focus more on dismantling the structures that oppress that individual or group—and such work will be directed by the stakeholders in the marginalized group. Know that many of the decisions about your career will happen when you are not in the room. When someone nominates you for something, or throws your hat in the ring for something, or speaks up on your behalf, have people inside and out of your department who can do this for you.


What are some fun facts about yourself?:

I love to travel and I’ve been to Spain, Italy, Greece, Rome, Capri, Naples, Costa Rica and South America. I try to take an international trip each year. I also co-host a podcast called “Schoolin Life” with a fellow higher educational professional, it’s a weekly podcast about life lessons, love and (occasionally) libations. When I started the podcast in June 2017, the vision was to extend my standard "girlfriend" conversations to a wider audience. I realized that I had great, impactful and affirming conversations with my friends, that not all women had access to and I really wanted to share what I had with others. What I didn't anticipate was the many ways Schoolin Life would be therapeutic for me. It forced me to be more honest, introspective and thoughtful and inadvertently serves as a sounding board that has really resonated with the growing audience. It has been one of the most rewarding and affirming experiences of my 30's and I'm grateful to podcasting as a platform for it. My co-host Marcy Sims and I are both Ph.D's (Clinical Psychology and Higher Education Administration) and we bring our educational and professional lived experience into the show, to teach others how to "school life".


Professionally You can follow Dr. Adams on LinkedIn


Follow me socially: @schoolinlifepod on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram

Email: ashley.asshire@gmail.com